What are we waiting for? The fantasy of carbon neutral growth of aviation emissions

In this guest post, the ‘stop flying’ Wellington lawyer Tom Bennion writes about the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO) proposals for ‘carbon-neutral’ growth of greenhouse gas emissions from the fast-growing aviation industry.

New Zealand parents often tell their children not to eat too many sweets. Our primary schools spend a lot of time talking about suitable diets. We do this because we have the long term interests of our children at heart.

I find the contrast between that and how we currently approach climate change disheartening and distressing and especially when I consider all the families I know who are now taking flying holidays with their children.

This is a really uncomfortable topic. But we have to talk about it, and do so urgently.

We should, by now, all know the math. There isn’t any personal activity we or our children can engage in that is even remotely close to air travel in terms of the sheer volume of greenhouse gas emissions it produces.

Google tells me that a Boeing 747 burns roughly 12 litres of aviation gas per kilometer. That is pretty good economy for carrying 500 people a short distance. But not if you are flying 18,819 km, the distance from Wellington to London and back. In that case, every person on the flight is responsible for consuming 450 litres of fuel. To put that in perspective, imagine if, instead of taking that trip, you revved up an average family car in your driveway to 100km/hr and at 6 litres per 100 kilometers you would need to leave it running for 75 hours or 3 days. Then repeat that for each family member that took the trip.

If you did that in your neighbourhood, you would be called a crass and thoughtless person, and people might wonder what sort of children you were raising.

In addition, these figures don’t address the fact that the warming effect of aviation gas burned at altitude is around 2-3 times the impact when burned at sea level. So make that 6-9 days of car revving for each family member.

We also know that the emissions from our plane trips this year and this decade will continue to heat the planet for hundreds of years.

It isn’t necessary to bang on about how bad things will get if we keep doing this. We already have an inkling from worldwide weather trends in the last 12 months. The thing to bear in mind is that the emissions we are contributing so hugely to through air travel are a severe threat to the future lives of our children, a much greater threat than a bad diet.

In the face of all of this, we have to accept, I think, that at the moment we are responding essentially with the instincts of small children:

  • We can see that we should stop this behaviour but wont because it would inconvenience us, be ‘too hard’ and ‘everyone else is doing it’.
  • We don’t like to talk about it. We mumble an excuse and move away if it comes up.
  • If we have to confront it, conversations quickly get tense as we get defensive about our reasons for keeping on with this clearly inappropriate behaviour.
  • We avoid mentioning the issue with our own children because we know they would instantly spot our hypocrisy.

In addition, and maybe this is the worst of it, by taking them on a flying holiday with us, we implicate them in our bad behaviour.

In uncomfortable situations like this we are anxious for good news. Here it is. All the members of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO), that is, essentially all United Nation member states, five years ago adopted a goal of carbon neutral growth after 2020.

You may wonder how or why the ICAO picked on 2020 as a benchmark in the first place. I don’t know. No one does. It has no bearing on reality, no bearing on trying to avoid dangerous climate change by keeping within the global average temperature rise within 1.5 of 2 degrees, and isn’t intended to.

It’s the best that can be politically extracted from 190 odd nation states who know that their home populations are acting like children and wont forgive them if they try to have a serious conversation about reducing airline emissions.

Here are some of the problems with the ICAO goal:

  • the ICAO has been promising action for ages. It got the mandate to work on reducing aviation greenhouse gases in the 1997 Kyoto Protocol.
  • The ICAO plan does not cover domestic aviation – that’s about 30% of aviation emissions.
  • By 2020, annual emissions will be around 1000 megatonnes. And there is no plan to reduce them at all, just to hold the annual level to about 1000 megatonnes.
  • Even after making heroic assumptions about how much new aeroplane design developments can cut back on some emissions, the ICAO has calculated that it can only meet its target with offsets.

That’s right, the emissions from our holiday flights in 2020 will be fine because someone else somewhere else (the details don’t need to concern us) is going to promise to grow some trees and keep them growing until around 2400 or so. I don’t think hubris really captures it. Its the sort of fantasy that only children could indulge in.

And lastly, and here is the real kicker, the ICAO isn’t going to do pretty much any of this. It has just announced that it is about to reset the start date of the proposal so it wont be compulsory for any nations until 2027, and will allow for whole sectors of aviation to aggregate their emissions. So there will be lots of delay and massaging of numbers. We all know what happened with the fraudulent carbon credits under New Zealand’s emissions trading scheme, and, with the fantasy thinking of offsets thrown in, I expect you can see where all of this is heading.

No surprises that the New Zealand Government has announced
that its happy with the scheme
, provided everyone else signs on with them of course.

This also means, obviously, that when your local airline tells you it supports the ICAO approach, has purchased some electric cars or is putting solar panels on the roof of the airport, or planting some trees for you to fly over in their planes, but has not yet switched its entire air fleet to bio-fuels or done something as blindingly obvious as stopping its air-points programme, you can just politely ignore them.

There is a technical term for this refusal to face reality. Its called cognitive dissonance. That is, juxtaposing two contradictory ideas and finding ways to manage the mental chasm between them. In this case its not just the contradiction between our personal carbon emissions from air travel and stated concern about climate change, its the fact that as parents we care for our kids while managing the secret knowledge that we risk literally shortening their lives and most certainly the lives of their own children.

I am selfish. My worry is that future children will look at our thousands of travel photos alongside the news headlines about record-setting heat, storms, floods etc, and wont just label us childish. Sociopaths is the terms we use for people with a sense of entitlement so strong that they would prefer mass death over personal discomfort and unease. But maybe they will just call us cowards. Then again, they might get inventive and call us child abusers.

I think we need to be uncomfortable for a little bit. We are adults. Adults can examine the situation rationally, and tell our kids that the hyper-mobile life of flying holidays we have been creating for ourselves and them is going to put us all in danger and has to go on hold. We all have a habitable planet to save right

So get out your air points statement. Explain to the kids you are donating all of them to forest planting. Tell them that holidays from now on will be a bit closer to home, and that overseas flights are special, rare things, that we will reserve for them when they are older, when they are adults and we have made sure the world is safe again.

40 thoughts on “What are we waiting for? The fantasy of carbon neutral growth of aviation emissions”

  1. Excellent article, very timely and very hard hitting as it should be. Personally I feel a sense to utter and complete outrage that people can pretend to be “concerned” and “worried” about climate change but their next major ambition in life is another holiday overseas via jet-travel. This kind of attitude really disgusts me.

  2. You may need to refine your figures for the actual aircraft the families will be flying in. They certainly won’t be 747s because they are so hard on fuel. The modern jets are much better but are still too hard on the planet unfortunately. We need to revive sailing ships. Folk will scoff at the suggestion but it will come when and if sanity is restored.

  3. Excellent article, however I’m going to disagree over the forestry point. Firstly commonsense suggests dealing with aircraft emissions is a massive difficulty, much harder than automobiles obviously. It’s a tall order expecting people to stop using aircraft. Isn’t planting forests as offsets about the best thing we can do, until some technological fix is found?

    Brian Fallow on The Herald commented on a similar issue, namely some proposal from Simon Upton to use forestry offsets as a specific fix for the agricultural methane problem. Makes sense to me, at least until a better solution is found.

    Of course all this relies on modifying the emissions trading scheme so that forests apply only to a few selective issues, and it relies on genuinely reducing emissions in other sectors like electricity generation, industry and automobiles, and quite aggressively so. But I think this is what has to be done.

    1. The Stockholm Environment Institute has a report on how aviation offsets might work. It concludes that siphoning off gasses from industrial processes has some promise, but has very low confidence in afforestation as an offset citing big problems with showing additionality: “Frequent challenges in determining baseline activity, which may be highly site-specific; timber revenue value often exceeds carbon value, making it difficult in some cases to determine how and whether carbon revenues were decisive in changing baseline activity.” And big problems with quantification of the offset: “There can be significant baseline uncertainties; measurement and quantification of forest carbon is subject to higher uncertainty than quantification of emissions in other project types; diverse and uncontrolled implementation environments make measurement, monitoring, and verification more difficult; displacement of existing land uses may lead to significant leakage (e.g., clearing of neighbouring forests)”. See Table 4 on pp 14-20. https://www.sei-international.org/mediamanager/documents/Publications/Climate/SEI-WP-2016-03-ICAO-aviation-offsets-biofuels.pdf

      But already people are focusing on forestry (forestry CEOs for example) and making nonsense claims eg “Fighting Climate Change From 36,000 Feet”: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/michael-jenkins-/fighting-climate-change-f_b_12222194.html.

      And the 2 examples the report gives as having strong additionality are (p9):
      • Destruction of N2O from nitric acid production, in the absence of any legal mandate to do so;
      • Collection and flaring of ventilation air methane at operating coal mines.

      So air travel emissions get offset by the capture of fugitive coal mine emissions. Forgive me if I am unenthusiastic.

      But in my view the bigger problem is that we desperately need the 1-2% of the world that fly, ie you and me and every middle class NZlander, who are the rich and powerful elite in global terms, to fully engage in fighting climate change, and to do so urgently. It simply isnt possible to do that while casually continuing with massive personal emissions through aviation. Flying is hugely symbolic in our society and a few politicians drastically cutting air travel, or the PM, some prominent actors, journalists, a few hundred Khandallah or Karori mothers for goodness sake, would have large social cut-through. Someone recently tweeted that when the chattering classes stop flying, climate change will get fixed – and I think there is a lot of truth in that.

      This makes the ICAO proposal a massive, massive error. It allows the 1-2% to pretend for another couple of decades that fixing climate change generally isnt going to require any particularly large personal efforts, and it will be fixed by people (mostly brown/black) somewhere else. And this makes the 1-2% unenthusiastic about giving political support to the substantial regulatory changes urgently needed in all the other areas of the economy.

      I could go on. But consider this example. There is a bus between Auckland and Wellington every night. Despite what every educated NZlander knows about climate change, and given the hundreds of meetings Auckland-Wellington held each day, I have yet to meet a single fellow professional on it. Old people manage the trip, poor people manage it, mothers with young babies manage it. Its the low carbon economy in action, and the 1-2% are nowhere in sight. If even a small percentage of the public servants and professionals with sustainability as part of their job description took a non-flying stance, that service would quickly improve out of sight, and we might even get a night train back. By continuing to fly, wringing our hands, relying on offsets, we actively prevent the low carbon economy from emerging.

      1. Tom Bennion, thanks for the detailed comment. I find it hard to argue with what you say.

        The application of forestry offsets to aircraft emissions does discourage personal responsibility in terms of reducing aircraft emissions. Its a sort of moral hazard issue, (like paying people benefits could discourage looking for work, although personally I support the benefits system overall). Of course if forestry offsets totally solved the problem then wouldn’t matter, but I agree we cannot be terribly confident in them.

        There’s another problem as well that relates to your point, that I have tried to make before. The ETS is very closely linked with planting forests, and it seems probable to me emitters would choose to buy forestry credits (or whatever the term is, I dont pretend to have any expertise on the ETS technicalities) rather than develop technical solutions to emissions, as it’s easier to just buy credits. This means the entire ETS system runs the risk of delaying research and finding technical solutions. This might be ok provided we could be certain about the value and integrity of forestry carbon sinks, but we just can’t be.

        I think we should approach it the other way around, and put cutting emissions first as this will reduce CO2, no question. Forestry sinks make sense to some degree, but should perhaps be decoupled from the ETS. If forests have significant value as a carbon sink, there is presumably a place for them in the arsenal of reducing emissions.

        To be honest, I’m just not even a fan of the whole ETS approach, as its so complex it makes itself open to abuse or manipulation by all the involved parties, including governments.

        However reducing aircraft emissions and methane from cows is a challenge. I don’t feel comfortable putting the squeeze on farmers with emissions caps or emissions taxes until we can say we have found some workable ways of reducing these emissions. Closing down our dairy industry would just create a massive problem for NZ. I have no vested interests in farming, and have written comments critical of dairy polluting rivers, but I’m trying to take an even handed approach to the whole thing.

        I agree it’s sad that we see a lack of personal leadership from notable people in society, particularly politicians in the two big parties. I’m seriously considering buying an electric car, but I’m a nobody. People do follow the leader, its the way things are.

        1. Hopefully the exponential growth and advances in solar technology will allow the cost of electricity to reach the mythical status of “too cheap to meter” before we hit any brick walls. Even if we don’t devise any whizzy new technology, if the CO2 can be removed from the air by traditional refrigeration methods then converted to carbonates or whatever is most convenient for burial underground, we may be able to forestall the looming climate disasters.

          I, too, would like an electric vehicle, I could even manage with an Organic Transit Elf* for most of my journeys except that the some-extras models are about the same price as a rather nice Jap Import even before it’s freighted to NZ.
          * http://organictransit.com

          1. I quite like that organic elf. I laughed when I first saw the photo, and the 1,8oo mpg equivalent! But its cute and appealing. I actually owned a tiny little three wheeler petrol driven custom made car once as a student. The elf would do for day to day shopping etc.

            The only issue is limited maximum speed, so do you drive it in the car lane and hold people up, or towards the left, yet it seems a bit large to do this.

            The Tesla appeals, but makes me think I’m having a mid life crisis buying that, and it has reliability issues. I would probably settle on the Nissan leaf, which has reasonable range enough for my needs, and would have japanese reliability, but the body styling needs to be sharper. If you go green, it should be in style.

            1. The Elf looks like a death trap to me; I prefer to be upright on a bike

              There are quite a lot of electric bikes on the market now. Christchurch has specialist shops (at least one exclusively selling eBikes)

              They seem like a great idea to me, because you can still peddle but get a lot further and faster without necessarily breaking into a sweat, thus being a great idea for commuting

              They are also great if you want to keep up with a more active partner or want to do something like the Alps to Ocean or the Rail Trail but are not super-fit.

            2. Andy, I also have reservations about the safety of the Elf. I don’t think it’s so much the lack of safety protection, because bikes don’t have any better.

              The problem is the Elf is too slow to be in the main flow of traffic in NZ, so you are going to be in the bicycle lane, or left of the main flow of traffic. The trouble is the Elf is quite wide, so you will risk getting crunched.

              The Elf ideally suits places like India, with lower traffic speeds and density in many places, and everything on the roads including cattle.

              However there could be a market in NZ for an all electric super mini the size of a Suzuki Swift. This would suit older people.

            3. Andy, yes electric bikes are great. Just remembered I have a consumer magazine with a good article, dated 19 Feb 2016. Probably on their website, but you would need to be a subscriber.

          2. Got a Nissan Leaf about 4 months ago. Cannot recommend then highly enough. Not just the wonderful feeling of being fossil fuel free, but the acceleration, and the smoothness of the ride. Unbelievable. Its actually a mid sized car. Let me know if you want a ride. Lots of people hanging out at Wellington EV and NZ EV facebook pages. New fast chargers rolling out every week. Every middle class person could step up now and ‘put it on the house’. Several family trips to Kapiti and Featherston, kids watching regen working as you go downhill. Its great family energy education and a really nice long distance ride.
            But still have gas hot water! Solar City panels coming next ($55 month and all the sun you can eat), with heat pump hot water system ($3-4K?) to take the 2kw from the panels and turn it into storage. Electric car will use some as well.
            But back to air travel. Its what I call the 10 minute personal solution to climate change. That’s because I’ve noticed that people who have taken this line get intensely practical about solutions and working towards them. I think its because once you decide to do it, your whole approach to the problem changes. Decisions about what to commit to or not are simplified. Same with the electric car.

            1. Tom, thanks for the offer of a ride. I may take you up on that sometime. I will keep my current car for a year or two then buy a Nissan leaf.

              I have driven in a Toyota Prius, and the quiet interior is a big advantage.

              I agree you can go crazy making these decisions entirely on a sort of cost benefit analysis or consideration of features. As you say you really have to commit to clean and green and decisions become easier. This gives you a foundation.

              Just a comment on my world view on climate change. I do believe we are warming the climate. The science just seems obvious to me. However I have struggled in the past with the idea of a low carbon future, and whether its the right decision for humanity and whether the benefits outweigh the costs.

              However what has convinced me that we must make a transition to renewable energy etc, etc, is that there are so many other advantages to clean energy, and oil will run out eventually anyway. We are also not locked into a low carbon future. The oil will be in the ground if we ever need it, although I doubt we would ever go back.

              But I mention these things because many people are still resistant to change. Part of this is fear, and probably the difficulty of imagining the future longer term. Humanity has never faced such a complex long term challenge with so many factors to consider. The whole thing desperately needs leadership from the top, that sets an example and simplifies the issues.

  4. Nothing like a bit of gallows humour to start the day. Thanks
    Brian Fallow, columnist, New Zealand Herald
    This message has been sent via the NZ Herald Website
    letter to editor sent 25/09/16
    All this talk about man-made global warming and climate change! Scientists! Of course the government doesn’t believe it! Look, the climate has always changed. The carbon dioxide level is the highest it’s been in millions of years, that’s true. In the past the sea level has risen inexorably. But it all sorts itself out in the end. Just takes a few million years. And a million years is a long time in politics…

    1. You gotta laugh… I wonder if the Gummint will believe in it when the good burghers start complaining bitterly, my prediction being that they will be lead by a certain gentleman who recently complained that the ChCh Council had built a walkway between the sea and his $8,000,000 bach perched at least 1m above high tide at Redcliffs.

  5. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZyrGdNvAvw
    Published on Apr 4, 2014
    The Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University Presents:
    Climate Wars: What People Will Be Killed For in the 21st Century. A lecture by Harald Welzer

    Harald Welzer is a sociologist and social psychologist and Professor for Transformation-design at the University of Flensburg, as well as Executive Director of the foundation FuturZwei. His main foci of research and teaching are memory, group violence and socio-cultural climate impact research. His books have been translated into 15 languages. Welzer is the author of the best-selling Climate Wars: What People Will be Killed for in the 21st Century, and, more recently, Klima, Zukunft und die Chancen der Demokratie [The end of the world as we know it. Climate, the future and chances for democracy]. This event was moderated by Henrik Selin, associate Professor of International Relations and an expert on environmental politics, sustainable development, global governance and international institutions.
    March 17, 2014
    Sponsored by the Center for the Study of Europe at Boston University.
    Co-sponsored by the Goethe Institut Boston and BU Europe. Funded in part by a grant from the European Commission Delegation in Washington DC.

  6. Lightning has kept me powerless for a couple of days, off-line for nearly 5 days and cost me replacement of phone, modem but amazingly, not the computer. Oh! and among these extra wet spring days I might have welcomed even the tiniest electric vehicles with cover and stability. Also the last two months have been the only ones in several years now that have been well below the projected totals of solar generation for Auckland at my place. I was just about to post a comment here when the power outages began – time for a battery me-thinks.

    Almost on topic: I consider constraining atmospheric surface change to 2° a fantasy too, the bad effect of which has been to give politicians the illusion of wriggle room, the deceit of distant targets and complaint of “unaffordable”.

    As for 1.5°C: Hansen has mentioned a CO2 count of 350 ppm as the equivalent of 1.5° surface temperature in a planetary equilibrium state. When were we at 350 ppm last? From then to only a short time hence I presume to be the lag of the system.

  7. Living in NZ with a German passport, kids with dual nationality and friends and family over there the aviation issue is a sore spot for me. I have so far pinned my hope on the NH3 crowd to make progress as this in my mind could be a potentially a game changer. NH3 only needs electricity to make and would be an ideal partner for intermittent generation (Solar, Wind) as NH3 production could simply follow the electricity supply curve. And with Solar become cheaper year by year the day should be coming when NH3 fuel might compete favourably with Carbon fuels even without any added climate tax pressures. While the energy density of NH3 is not a match for CxHx fuels, it would still permit reaching the other side of the planet within 24 hours or so one should imagine.
    So perhaps there is hope that we can fly without CxHx fuels. Otherwise I would believe that people would just keep on flying as long as they can afford it.
    On NH3 fuels: https://nh3fuelassociation.org/

    1. I have wondered too why I have not heard more of this. I started looking over papers from this years conference on NH3 in USA. Emissions free gets mention but the source of NH3 today and for decades is coal and gas and not emissions free. There are papers on renewable sources but one discounted discontinuous generation (wind and solar) as resulting in NH3 that is too expensive. All the news I see is about more solar, wind, some hydro or geothermal power, but almost none on NH3 from renewables. A recent presentation at a show in Europe of a hydrogen powered train gives no source for the hydrogen – cracking NH3 from fossil fuel resources I wondered? So maybe there is the rub – fossil fuel emissions still. NH3 from renewable sources is still mainly for research projects but a number are described.

      There is a reference to a 150 hp tractor on a farm that runs on hydrogen, or hydrogen plus NH3, and distributes NH3 as fertilizer all from a solar installation. However, my enthusiasm waned when I saw what this tractor was doing – liberating carbon from the soil by plowing a vast area, flat from horizon to horizon. I will not enthuse till that NH3 is powering a “no-till” operation!

      1. Yes at the moment the hydrogen for NH3 production and most other uses comes from CxHx fuels or from Coal-Water reactions under heat and pressure. http://energy.gov/fe/science-innovation/clean-coal-research/hydrogen-coal
        But long term I would think that H2O electrolysis should be the pathway that will be used. Of course, it lacks efficiency but with falling solar panel prices and huge desert areas where no otherwise productive land is sacrificed, this may become a very feasible technology.
        At least the storage and transport of NH3 is benign compared to that of H2 which would require much more complex technology and would be impractical as an aviation fuel for sure.

        But perhaps the advent of cheap high res virtual reality technology (capture of video at the source and display at the other end) will make connecting with friends and relatives much cheaper and more regular than ever possible with air travel. And anybody who sat 24hrs in Sardine Class with no legroom, a couple of heavy coughers behind spreading disease, a tray table wiggler in front and several crying infants in the rows nearby will know, spending one’s entire bi-annual carbon budget that way is neither fun nor rewarding….. 😉

        1. To add to the virtual reality replacement for air travel: We have pretty much the technology we will need and Mores law will make it ubiquitous and seamless in the near future. Imagine your augmented reality goggles displaying your European relative “sitting” at the dinner table in your NZ home and conversing with you live in HD – 3D with Hi Fi sound while the same person at their home see your family here in the same way.
          This will be possible in the next ten years and affordable too. It will be a game changer. New business opportunities will flourish for people willing to carry 3D cameras on a helmet for a paying client overseas touring NZ’s best attractions….
          No kidding either.
          The next step will be that some scientists work out how to tweak the MATRIX ( http://www.simulation-argument.com/ ) and make you teleport to wherever you want…. 🙂

          1. “make you teleport to wherever you want…. :)”

            Been there….done that! 🙂 🙂
            well virtually via imagination! I do not believe the results, alas, but I have known people who cannot tell the differencebetween what’s fact and what’s imagined.

      2. Love the NH3 powered tractor, but the current design with the tanks on the top has to go. Tractors are prone enough to being unstable. Weight is not so much of a problem for tractors as they spend most of their life carrying ballast for traction and center of balance, standard practice to fill the tyres with water.
        NH3 on a farm is doubly good as it is fertiliser, cutting CO2 emissions in gulf state gas powered ammonium nitrate production, and insulating the farm from volatility in price of both fuel and N fert. Deep stoneless soils like loess can use anhydrous NH3 injection – no need to formulate with a carrier into grains for spreading. In the soil the NH3 first sterilises the soil it hits and is not leached like nitrate, then as the bugs recolonise the injection zone it is progressively liberated as nitrate to the crop. UK soils are typically far to stony and would vent lots to the atmosphere. Presume NZ is in a similar position. We would both use small local plants to formulate into prills, just like a dairy or mill.
        No-till is best for accumulating OM but not suitable for soils/crops. That tractor was pulling a disk harrow so may have been min-till, just enough to kill emerging weeds/volunteers and create a suitable grain size seed bed for the crop to germinate.
        Did read years ago about a US uni bringing forward a NH3 pilot plant optimised for irregular production, running on low spot price power when on a future grid wind power is exceeding demand. Obviously small plants are not economic yet against gas without a fair tax on C and a higher wind (or nuclear/both) penetration with the attendant periods of surplus.

          1. Thanks for the PDF. Its nearly 30 years since I had to memorise USDA Soil Taxonomy, and it has all deserted me. For the anhydrous ammonia injection it needs truly stoneless soil as if the pressurized injector hits one there is an abrupt leak of lots of ammonia. North American and Russian steppe are ideal for this, with flat expanses of stoneless soil and little variation.
            Of course with such land you can get rid of conventional tractors for cultivation/direct drilling. Gantries can carry all cultivators. Put a fixed gantry in straddling from the field margins and they cut all traction on the land and in some cases tyre contact also, though this has been limited to trial plots on research stations so far. Just the same as was done with steam power, you can have a power unit confined to the field margin pulling the implement back and forth on a cable with a pulley at the far side https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOyzzUShkUs. Bit like a ski lift crossed with a plough. Substitute electric for steam, with a mains umbilical on the field margin. You increase your window for cultivation as negate the risk of smearing wet soil by the driving wheel, and reduce compaction massively. The only heavy tire loading then needs to be at harvest when the soil is at its driest and most resilient anyway.

            1. I should have looked years ago! It seems NZ scientists and firms have been developing, manufacturing and exporting worldwide no-till contour following machinery for years so plenty of nz soils must be OK for it. “from NZ” seems to be a guarantee of excellence in the field judging from some of the stuff I’ve read. Two articles have come to my attention in this regard recently, the first just published in NZ.
              Regenerate soil, [sequester carbon] save the world

              Looking at the earth – Obama’s last throw for climate change as President

    2. Regarding alternative fuels.
      Here is how it breaks down in my mind:
      * Aerospace is at the forefront of technology. They are going flat out on low emission alternatives.
      *We need big drops in emissions asap.
      *Airline growth is huge.
      *Planes have long lives and fleet replacement is slow. A380s are purchased on the basis that they are flying 50 years from now.
      *So ‘drop-in’ fuels’ are the best bet for large emissions reductions.
      *ICAO (which all states belong to) has done all the numbers. Throwing in huge changes in technology and efficiency gains and huge growth in biofuels, and allowing themselves unlimited emissions growth till 2020, they still cant make growth after 2020 emissions neutral without a massive programme of offsets. So you have to believe in their offsets programme – with huge issues of checking compliance, double counting and pressure on resources needed for offsetting emissions from other industries. I dont. Its fantasy land.
      Outcome – we cant wait for alternative fuels.

      Regarding loved ones being far away.
      I have the same problem, with a brother and all aunts uncles etc in UK and Ireland. I still remember the single phone call my parents made once a year to relatives in Ireland. But I also remember the amazement of our first ($1000!) video conference about 15 years ago for my parents’ wedding anniversary. Much more can be done in this area.
      So no easy answers here. We keep talking about the need to be on a ‘war footing’. Wouldn’t a personal ‘war footing’ look like a drastic reduction in personal flights?

      Carrying on the war metaphor. This war has real victims. Poor people alive now and then our children and particularly their children. If we arent personally committed, we cant expect others to be. If we arent acting, then we are expecting someone else to fight it. People in Haiti and Bangaldesh cant. The emissions are on us. And the effect of us ‘leading the charge’ is huge for morale.

  8. My understanding is that the best bang for buck is petroleum produced from microalgae, which has the significant advantage of no change to infrastructure is required among a whole host of other advantages:


    The problem I suspect is that people expect to get from A to B and to furthermore only have to spend a pittance.

    1. Crude oil and just about anything else from sewage ponds growing algae. Just another instance where a carbon tax would tilt the field in favour of a carbon neutral process or better.

  9. I did a quick read on ammonia as a fuel and this was interesting : Ammonia was used to power the x15 hypersonic rocket plane, and worked fine. It appears they experimented with a range of fuels.

    The problem is ammonia has about half the energy density of typical aviation fuel, so this would presumably be huge problem for long haul flights at least with current aircraft.

    I hear what people are saying about reducing air travel, and I’m not a fan of long distance travel myself, but is it practical to expect the problem to be adequately solved by people voluntarily reducing travel? I have my doubts. At the very least there will be a need for some people to travel for humane reasons.

    If forestry is a viable carbon sink, then air travel seems to be the one thing that it should be applied to. I know its fraught with problems as Tom rightly says, but it could be made to work.

    The eventual solution may be a mix of all these things. We are sort of in the experimental phase, but obviously this phase cant last too long.

    I agree about Toms comment about taking personal responsibility for change. I tend to be slack in this regard, but have decided to buy an electric car and would consider solar panels.

    But humans are largely followers. We need leadership from the top, and from politicians in particular.

      1. Wow! The same argument applies to the substitution of wood for diesel or coal in heating if the wood comes from cutting down a forest far away though I know of a case where a strictly local source of fast growing poplar is cut each year to supply the local heating through winter.

        On the whole I have regarded carbon neutral as better than carbon emitting if that is real but not enough because it only preserves the status quo, putting carbon back in the atmosphere that has been taken out but not reducing it in any way so the glaciers keep on melting, the seas keep on acidifying and rising, species keep on being extinguished, extremes grow no less. . . .

  10. Tom, I had a read of your link, and it does seem dismal news for biofuels. I have always wanted to know a bit more about these fuels, hence the interest.

    However I have never been a fan of biofuels, because they are displacing a lot of good farmland, so must be a cost on farming as a whole. The entire climate change issue a complex analysis of whether costs of mitigation are outweighed by benefits. I think they are as a whole, from what I have read, but biofuels just have endless costs. In comparison, forests can be planted on relatively marginal land.

    Ammonia could be a viable aircraft fuel, even for long flights, but given its not as efficient as jet fuel, it would about double the cost of a plane ticket and would require a new generation of aircraft. I doubt you could just modify an existing Airbus, and it takes forever to design and test large new aircraft so its not much of an answer to keeping temperatures under 2 degrees.

  11. The largest problem that humanity will need to tackle (Climate Change) did not feature once in the American nauseating presidential election circus! Perhaps – or probably most likely – in all this lies the answer to Bostrom’s Simulation argument: Its path A most likely. Humanity is collectively not able to cut through the nonsense and deal with the real problems at hand and will thus end in some Mad Max type endgame well before reaching the state of technological development required to suppose path B and C of the Simulation argument.
    Time to plant a food forest….

      1. Yes, that’s very encouraging. I also spoke to a solar installer who says that more and more people install batteries to avoid exporting power as that is no longer paying enough. So they use modest batteries to keep the daytime extra until the evening. And thanks to Tesla or Enphase these solutions are becoming ever more affordable.

  12. I’ve just finished reading the recently-published book A Farewell to Ice by Prof Peter Wadhams, the world’s leading expert on Arctic ice. He has put his head on the chopping block for you, me and the planet.

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